Your kids spent the afternoon hanging on you and making demands. Your boss just gifted you two projects with unrealistic deadlines. And you spent your evening completing chores and getting lunches and backpacks ready for tomorrow… when, of course, you get to do it all over again.
The only thing you want to do now is have a few minutes alone, then go to sleep.
It is not surprising that many of us struggle to find time or energy for our partners when juggling the demands of parenthood and work. That’s true even if one of you is a stay-at-home parent and the other is a full-time worker.
The demands can seem endless. And often, we unintentionally “check out” of our relationship as a result.
But this is a mistake for our mental and emotional health – not to mention the health of our relationship. Your partner can be a source of strength, happiness, and connection, but you have to make him or her a priority.
Another priority? Ugh… I know, I know. You already have a long list of tasks (and little people) begging for your attention. But when you make your relationship a priority, you are making yourself a priority, too.
Research shows that a strong social connection impacts our long-term health as much as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking. And a strong relationship can give you a greater sense of purpose, help you be the person you want to be, and improve your ability to manage stress.
In the book I co-authored with Tim Higdon, Rock Solid Relationship, we share many creative ways that you can keep the romance alive and maintain your connection despite outside pressures and distractions. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
GET RID OF OBLIGATIONS.
In order to prioritize your relationship, you need to be willing to give up or change other things taking up your time right now. That could mean dropping out of your tennis league or simply forgoing TV time a few days a week. Or maybe you stop doing overtime at work or skip that PTO meeting.
Look at your schedule now. What does it say about your priorities? How can you change it to reflect what you’d like to prioritize?
PUT THE KIDS TO BED EARLIER.
If they get to bed fifteen minutes earlier, that’s fifteen more minutes you have alone. Older kids can use the quiet time to read a book. Younger kids will have more time to unwind before they fall asleep.
Don’t fill that extra time with chores. Don’t sit in front of the boob tube. Use it to reconnect.
Turn off all your devices and talk. Play a board game. Take on a project. Just do something that gets you interacting and connecting with one another.
CREATE A RITUAL.
Do you have something you say to your kids every night before they go to bed? Or maybe as you send them off to school? These small rituals help your children to feel loved, safe, and connected to you.
Create a ritual – or many rituals – with your partner to do the same for him or her. Send off your spouse with a loving phrase when he or she leaves for the day at the office. Hold hands as you watch TV at night. Share a kiss when you are reunited in the evening.
These small actions don’t take much time, but they will help you feel connected.
THANK YOUR PARTNER.
We spend a lot of time telling each other what we are doing wrong.
“Can you please pick the laundry up off the floor?” “You forgot to make his lunch last night!” “Have you changed that light bulb yet?”
Complaints and other forms of negativity can kill feelings of connection and love. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to notice the mistakes your spouse makes. But what about the things your partner does right?
Challenge yourself to catch the good things your partner does and – here’s the kicker – thank them for it.
Some people struggle with this idea. Why should I thank my partner for something he or she “should” be doing?
In short: it will create an atmosphere of gratitude for both of you. We all deserved to feel appreciated for our work, required or not.
It has another benefit: it invites more positive behavior. Your spouse will see that you appreciate his or her contributions, and that will encourage more effort.
PLAN A REGULAR DATE NIGHT.
Spending time with just the two of you is so crucial for maintaining your connection. Yet so many couples don’t prioritize it.
There are two excuses I hear over and over from parents. The first is: we don’t have enough time or money.
I want you to think about the things you are finding time or money for now: watching TV, going to the gym, playing video games, etc.
Why can’t you carve out some time and money for something as important as your relationship?
The second excuse is trouble finding a babysitter.
Here’s the thing: your date night doesn’t have to involve leaving the house. It just has to involve special time for the two of you. And that can happen any night after the kids go to bed.
Cook a special meal together. Order in from your favorite restaurant. Go outside with a glass of wine or cup of tea and watch the stars together.
Don’t overlook the importance of a physical connection.
Sex is important beyond procreation. It reinforces the connection between two partners.
For many, the arrival of their first child also marked a time of change for their sexual habits. While it is a period of intense joy, caring for an infant also requires a lot of time and energy. If you’ve spent most of the night up with a crying baby, the very idea of having sex can sound exhausting. Some fathers report feeling rejected during this period of time.
It’s important to have a dialogue – without criticism and blame. Neither of you is at fault. It is the situation of caring for your children that is to blame.
Together you can work at removing some of the obstacles to intimacy, and find ways to put you both in the mood. And you can find other ways to be physically intimate at times when it may simply not be in the cards, such as cuddling, touching, and massages.
RELATIONSHIP COACHING CAN HELP YOU KEEP THE ROMANCE ALIVE
Committing to relationship coaching is another way to make your partner a priority. You are setting aside time to learn better ways to communicate, manage conflict, and connect with one another. And you can put that knowledge to use immediately to make a difference in your relationship.